Ryczek: Baseball’s first enclosed field, Brooklyn’s Union Grounds

From SABR member Bill Ryczek at The National Pastime Museum on May 1, 2014:

Prior to the Civil War, baseball was played on open greenswards, like picturesque Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey. Without boundaries, there were no fences to serve as targets for home run hitters and no viable way of excluding unwanted spectators. Of course, keeping people out wasn’t a problem as long as they were orderly, and no one wanted to charge them for watching the game.

Until the Fashion Course Race Series of 1858, spectators watched games for free. None of the players were paid, and whatever expenses they incurred they paid out of their pockets. For the Fashion Course all-star games, attendees were charged an admission fee to cover the cost of preparing the grounds, the first occasion fans paid to watch a game of ball. Although the precedent was established, it was rare during the next few years for clubs to charge fans to view their games.

The difficulty of collecting admissions at open fields was that, with no gates, clubs could not prevent anyone from stopping by to watch for free. Non-paying spectators could only be excluded if the grounds were enclosed with limited points of access.

In baseball’s early years, fans were usually well-behaved. The sport wasn’t competitive enough to attract gamblers, and the rougher sorts were more likely to frequent boxing matches, cockfights, or canine sports.

As baseball matured, gamblers began to follow it more closely. The deciding third game of the exciting 1860 championship series between the Atlantics and Excelsiors came to an abrupt conclusion when the boisterous gambling crowd that followed the Atlantics created such a row that the Excelsiors walked off the field. The incident made it abundantly clear that having 10,000 to 15,000 excited fans in an unenclosed area was a recipe for disaster.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/brooklyns-union-grounds-baseballs-first-enclosed-field

Originally published: May 1, 2014. Last Updated: May 1, 2014.